Remembering Robert Osborne (1932-2017)

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Like many movie lovers, I always thought Robert Osborne had the greatest job in the world: talking about movies. Watching him, you felt like he was having the time of his life talking about each movie, whether it was a Hollywood classic or a lesser, more obscure film that you’d forgotten (or never knew existed). Regardless of the film, Osborne’s enthusiasm was infectious. Thanks to Osborne’s introductions, I would often end up watching films that previously had held no interest at all for me.

Everyone knows that Osborne famously introduced films on TCM (Turner Classic Movies) starting in 1994 and before that he hosted for The Movie Channel. He had many other projects and was a busy, busy man. Many of the people reading this blog probably met him at a TCM Film Festival or other venue. I never met him, but always looked forward to seeing him appear on TCM. Although Osborne was arguably the finest, most endearing host of movies, he wasn’t the first, not even the first for a Ted Turner network.

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In the late 70s, a skinny affable humorously hip guy with a mustache named Bill Tush began introducing movies for Turner’s Atlanta-based WTCG channel 17. As WTCG transformed into the SuperStation, Tush wore several hats, including the host of Award Theatre. I remember one day Tush introduced High Noon (1952). It was the first time I’d ever seen the film and while I don’t remember Tush’s opening remarks, he related several stories at the film’s conclusion, especially having to do with Gary Cooper’s ill health while making the film. I felt I was privy to some real insider information and was absolutely astounded that a TV network would let someone actually talk about movies on the air.

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But while Tush was often entertaining and comedic, if not clownish (He got his own comedy sketch show in 1980 simply called Tush), he couldn’t be taken too seriously. Robert Osborne was different. This guy had the goods, no question. Not only that, he appeared onscreen wearing killer suits, usually standing in a room that looked like some rich guy’s library, like he’d just set down a book of Shakespeare’s sonnets in order to tell you about the behind-the-scenes story of Judy Garland in A Star is Born. You also got the impression that Osborne had seen every movie that had ever spooled through a projector. Now we’ve all probably met people who think they know a lot about movies and are more than willing to tell you so, but Osborne wasn’t like that. He was certainly knowledgable, but his quiet demeanor made you feel as if he was talking to you in your own living room with no pretense, no condescending attitude, no b.s. Just another person, like you, who loves movies.

During the last few years of her life, my mom took great pleasure in Osborne’s introductions, which always led her to her own memories of seeing several of the movies he introduced. I felt the same way. In some ways, however, it was frustrating. Many times you wanted Osborne to keep talking because you knew he always had more to say, more behind-the-scenes stories, more production information, movie history, more, more, more.

One of the greatest compliments I’ve ever received while working at the library came at our very first Great Movies presentation in January 2016. We were showing Casablanca (1942). I introduced the film and led the discussion afterward. When the event was over, one of the women in attendance commented on how much she enjoyed the evening and added, “Plus we have our own Robert Osborne!” I’m honored and humbled by her comment. I’ll never measure up to Osborne, but am truly honored to be mentioned in his company, even in jest.

We will miss you, Mr. Osborne. Your love for movies, your boundless knowledge and your warm personality are all qualities we cherish. Thank you for sharing with us.

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